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Pilot project aims to bring refugees to Canada as skilled workers

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Call it a global job recruitment agency for refugees.

A Washington-based NGO has built a refugee talent pool and is matching candidates with employers from around the world. Not only does it help pull displaced migrants out of poverty, it alleviates labour shortages in western countries by providing them with skilled workers.

Syrian refugee Mohammed Hakmi has been offered an IT job with Kitchener-based tech firm Bonfire Interactive.
Syrian refugee Mohammed Hakmi has been offered an IT job with Kitchener-based tech firm Bonfire Interactive.  (SUPPLIED PHOTO)

Since its 2016 inception, Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) has vetted and developed skill profiles for more than 10,000 refugees now in Lebanon and Jordan — 30 per cent of them with an undergrad degree or above and half with intermediate to full English proficiency.

The talent pool includes people from 200 professions, the majority with a background in engineering, health care, IT, teaching, accounting and university education.

“We need to change the narrative of the way we view refugees as unskilled and uneducated,” said Bruce Cohen, a former counsel in the U.S. Senate, who co-founded the organization with his wife Mary Louise Cohen, also a lawyer. “This is not to undercut the existing refugee resettlement effort but to open up new pathways to add to the solution.”

With an established — and still expanding — talent pool as well as backing from the United Nations Refugee Agency, the project has reached out to Canadian employers and is using Canada as the testing ground to bring in skilled refugees on work permits and maybe even as permanent residents.

Funded by the U.S. State Department, the World Bank and other private foundations, TBB is partnering with the Canadian government, the UN and RefugePoint, an agency that promotes refugee resettlement and self-reliance, to divert refugees in Kenya and the Middle East to Canada through a pilot program. The pilot has the support of Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the Yukon. All candidates must go through the same stringent requirements to qualify.

To date, across Canada, job offers have been made to six refugee candidates, including Mohammed Hakmi, who fled to Beirut with his family in 2011 when war broke out in Syria.

The native of Homs has a degree in information technology and more than five years of experience as a web developer and in computer networking. After responding to a post on Facebook by TBB, Hakmi was interviewed in English and assessed by experts in IT. Staff helped build his resumé to highlight his skills, experience and achievements.

“Being a refugee doesn’t mean a person is uneducated, that he or she is not innovative and effective in society. Many of us had good careers. No one chose to be a refugee and get trapped in these really terrible circumstances,” said Hakmi, 26, who, in September, applied for a work permit with a job offer from Kitchener-based tech firm Bonfire Interactive, with pro bono help from Toronto’s Segal Immigration Law.

“Refugees are not a liability but actually a good investment for the future. When you have been through so much, you value every opportunity you are given because you know how much of a gift it is. Refugees are the most dedicated workers you will find.”

Kris Braun, Bonfire’s director of engineering, said the company is looking to double its size and would require a number of talented software developers, who are in short supply.

“Canada’s tech industry is growing at a fast rate and we struggle to find good (job) candidates,” he said. “Refugees are trying to rebuild their lives after fleeing wars and conflicts. Part of it is to hold meaningful work. This is a win-win for us.”

Cohen said skilled worker and economic immigration policies are not designed with refugees’ circumstances in mind and requirements such as recent work experience and minimum settlement funds make it impossible for skilled refugees to qualify. It limits their migration options to humanitarian consideration only, he said.

Currently, fewer than 1 per cent of the 20 million UN-registered refugees around the world are resettled from a temporary host country in the developing world to the west.

“If you are a refugee or displaced person, you either run without your passport or your passport has likely expired while you are in another country,” said Cohen. “It’s these kinds of things that we need some flexibility and adjustments to make a difference.”

Cohen said he hopes to resettle as many as 25 refugees to Canada under the joint pilot with Ottawa and if successful, expand it to other countries.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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